Budget a balancing act

Belt-tightening was front and centre as Vernon School District officials met with stakeholders

Belt-tightening was front and centre as Vernon School District officials met with stakeholders.

Options ranging from busing fees to hiking school field rentals surfaced as teachers, parents, and support staff members packed the Schubert Centre Wednesday to provide input on the district’s budget crunch.

“Your presence here is a clear indication that after 15 years of cuts we are fed up and the board relies on the community for ideas on how to budget for the school year,” said Kelly Smith, board chairperson.

The provincial government requires $437,000 of cuts in non-instructional costs for the 2015/16 school year, with that number rising to $813,000  the following year and every year thereafter.

The district receives a total operating grant of $70.3 million, a number that has been steadily declining for the past few years

“We have some tough decisions ahead of us and how are we going to achieve those administrative savings. Ideally, we would make up for the shortfall through increasing other sources of funding,” said Adrian Johnson, acting secretary-treasurer.

Sources of revenue include attracting international students to the district and targeted provincial grants, but they have to be spent on specific programs such as French immersion.

One of the largest costs for the district is operations and maintenance, with $7.3 million going to keeping schools clean, heated and running.

“But if you skip out on operations and maintenance, the schools will decay, so we need to be careful not to cut too much money from that area because the real risk is that we will end up paying for it in far worse ways down the line,” said Johnson.

Other costs go towards district administration, which is at $2.4 million and includes human resources, payroll and finance.

“You want to spend the minimum amount you can on business administration so we can use our resources as much as possible on the classroom. But if you cut that too much, then the system breaks and other costs arrive which will far outweigh any expenditure,” said Johnson.

Transportation costs total $2.2 million. About half of district students use school buses. For every rider, the district spends $560 per student per year, which translates to eight per cent of the grant spent on getting kids to school.

Following Johnson’s presentation, attendees were asked to break into smaller discussion groups, facilitated by district staff members.

Suggestions for cuts included charging parents for busing their children, particularly those attending schools of choice such as Beairsto.

Superintendent Joe Rogers said the district has looked at the possibility of not watering school fields in summer, which would realize a savings of $50,000. However, the school fields are rented out to various groups in the summer, such as soccer programs.

“The bottom line is we need to find a balance to provide the best services we can,” he said. “Do we cut transportation or classroom services — that’s why we’re here to talk to the public about what they’d like to do.”

The board and administration will consider suggestions made at the public meeting, as well as those made via the district’s website, as part of the budget process.

 

At the April 22 public board meeting, trustees will present suggestions and give first reading to the budget. Second reading will be April 29 at 4 p.m., with third reading May 6 at 4 p.m.